You bought your SUV, not just because it gives you space, but because it gives you peace of mind.
The last thing you want is for your precious cargo — i.e., those passengers sitting in the third row — to be hurt along the way.
As it turns out, though, most crash tests don’t really account for the third row; there’s a pretty big focus on the driver and any passengers sitting in the first two rows. Your kids sitting in the back are, as far as crash tests are concerned, sitting in unknown territory.
Even the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which is one of the first organizations to actually implement third-row crash test dummy studies, isn’t taking into account a rear impact. It’s only studying a frontal impact at the moment.
But that doesn’t mean third-row passengers are in the danger zone (after all, rear collisions are often less fatal than front collisions). There are a few things you can do to make sure that everyone in your vehicle is safe and sound.
Adjust Head Restraints
Everyone who sits in a car without a car seat needs to ensure that the top of the head restraint reaches the top of their ears at the very lowest; ideally, the head restraint will be level with the top of the head, and the seat will be positioned so that the head is resting against the restraint.
This rule can exclude some adults from sitting in the back row, especially those that are taller. My brother, at a towering 6’1″, will still try to sit in the very back row of my mom’s Nissan Armada, despite the fact that his head brushes the ceiling and there’s a good six inches of space between where the headrest ends and his head begins. If he were to get in an accident, the force could pitch him forward and then backward, straining his neck and possibly causing severe injuries. Save the third row for the people who fit there best.
Double-Check the Car Seat
It can be tempting to fit your kid into a car seat that they’re either not ready for or have seriously grown out of — those seats can be expensive, and you’ll likely convince yourself that there’s not a high probability of there being a serious crash before you have your child in a properly-fitted seat.
You don’t want to be caught out, though; make sure that you always have your children in a properly-fitted seat — especially if they’re going to be sitting in the rear seat, where we don’t have the data available to understand how they could be impacted in a crash.
Related: The Safest Cars on the Road: Why Lighter, More Fuel Efficient, Rather than Older, Heftier Cars, Are Safer
Consider the Middle
If the middle seat of your third row has a three-point seatbelt and appropriate headrest, consider having your children or car seats located there instead of on the sides. The center provides some insulation from side-rear impacts, which can give some much-needed space between your child and the crash point.
Look for Airbags
The very best thing when buying a three-row SUV are side-curtain airbags that reach all the way back to the rear seat. That’s not always a case, so you have to make sure it’s available on the model you choose.